Thursday, April 11, 2013

Elders' yatra details

Hakea in flower

This yatra is designed for those in the irony years, where bodies weaken as wisdom grows. I will lead a half- day of silent mindful walking in the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. The walk is easy and is graded between 1 and 2 on a scale of 1 to 5. There will also be seated meditation, barefoot walking and there are opportunities for people to extend their yatra if they wish ( at their own risk).

DATE AND TIME:  Saturday the 4th of May from 9:30 a.m. to about 2 p.m.

COST:                       $20 plus dana (gift)


TRANSPORT:          Railway- friendly but some 4WD's would be great

BOOKINGS:            book in by May 2. More info will be sent after registration.

 ENJOY:                       amazing views, Actinotus minor


Humping patiently / a load of old basalt / three worn mountains

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The haiku template of transition

This is an edited version of a piece I wrote for the autumn edition of "Mind Moon Circle: journal of the Sydney Zen Centre". For the unexpurgated text, go to:, newsletters Autumn 2013 

"The first of the Diamond Sangha great vows states, “The many beings are numberless; I vow to save them”. This is true bodhisattva work, impossible and selfless and entirely possible.

In 2000 I began to go walking with the Blue Mountains Conservation Society every week. The group I walked with called themselves the “Interpretives”. On those walks every Thursday  I gradually added to my knowledge of my bioregion and its plants, birds, animals, Aboriginal ways of living, scats, insects, white history, Aboriginal history, sites, and geology. The people in the group were interested in all this, and had knowledge and political savvy. I began to work on a book based on walks in Gundungurra country and I walked, and led walks, with this group for about eleven years.  What we noticed over that time was changes. Wattle was flowering earlier and earlier every year, the Acacia terminalis coming out in May rather than June,  a distinctive bush such as Leptospermum macrocarpa was blossoming earlier. Other bushwalkers I met confirmed this observation. In 2009, out on my own, I spotted a bird called a noisy pitta  in the Glenbrook creek area just near my home. This was odd, since the southern range of this bird was supposed to be the mid-north coast, according to my Pizzey *1. When I spoke to professional twitcher Carol Probets about this, she confirmed that this bird had  been seen in the Wollongong area. Birds and fish are gradually migrating south freely because they are not so subject to man-made barriers. There are now fifty species of NSW fish in the waters off Tasmania.This was the effects of climate change right before us, indisputably.

I would write haiku on these walks. Ever since I met Robert Aitken Roshi, I’ve been playing around with haiku, which are short poems about nature. When I had just moved to Australia, and had a job with Telecom, I’d relieve the tedium of clerk level one by going at lunchtime to a park and reading his “ A zen wave: Basho’s haiku and zen”.  But one of the important facets about haiku, as a traditional Japanese literary form, is that there should be a kigo, a season word in each poem. There is a whole rich bank of associations with these kigo - crickets for autumn: melancholy. So it was interesting to me to study the seasons in the Blue Mountains. How many seasons were there? According to local Aboriginal aunties, the Gundungurra considered that there were seven. The pagan priestess Glenys Livingstone, of Springwood where I live, posited twelve. Or was there not a yearly cycle at all, but in the sunburnt country, sometimes droughts and then flooding rains? Stressed plants in this country put on an out-of-season floral display if conditions are dire and it is their last chance of reproducing.

So every now and then I would lead a haiku workshop with ginko (nature walk),  and this question of what is happening now, in the bush, and what season it is, would come up.  People have to really look. And the question of how things were changing might come up, and I could see that for some people, climate change was an unwelcome concept.


The slackers’ view is that Mother Nature can right herself, as she always does. But she is lying deathly sick, and we are like errant children, leaving the windows open for the cold breeze to blow in. Or, more accurately, we are not separate - zen teaches us this -  for our species, as Tim Flannery puts it, is now the Weathermaker. There is a lag, but we ourselves will be ill if we do not urgently begin to transition to a low carbon economy. The carbon that we are discharging now into the atmosphere will be around for a long time.  ..“around 56 per cent of all the CO2 that humans have liberated by burning fossil fuel in the past century is still aloft, which is the cause -directly and indirectly -of around 80 per cent of all global warming” .*2

 I remember Robert Aitken Roshi quoting Winston Churchill’s dictum, with a kind of New York drawl: “Democracy is the worst possible system - except for all the rest”. The Quakers, whom Roshi often respectfully referred to, believe strongly in engaging with political systems. A few years ago I was at a forum, at which a Quaker woman talked of a concept called Fair Share, where one set goals for oneself over a year to help spread wealth. It used a numerical formula (5, 10, 5, 10). One of the goals was about engaging in the democracy (which we all have the good fortune to be citizens of) ten times, to act as though the system works for you, that MP really does represent you.  Those ten actions might be, write a letter to a politician, visit a pollie, sign a petition, vote. This does not just mean protest. You could write a letter congratulating a pollie: “Nice work”. I received one of the most prompt and personal letters in reply from a local member, when I congratulated him for his efforts in drug law reform. I think as I absorbed the Quaker idea, my engagement has grown.

I’d like to suggest the haiku template of transition ( typically, haiku are in three lines, first of five syllables, then seven, and finally five syllables).

5.  In a year, five acts of consciously reducing your carbon footprint  (simple purchases - public transport - second hand - grow your own lettuce)
7.In a year, seven acts of engaging actively in your democracy. This year you can vote!
5.In a year, do five enjoyable things in your local community"


1 - “The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia” Graham Pizzey and Frank Knight 2002

2 - p. 23, Flannery, Tim “We are the Weathermakers”  2007

see also:
 Gilding, Paul  “ The Great Disruption” 2011  I reviewed Paul Gilding’s book for Blue Mountains Conservation Society, and it’s in Hutnews July 2011, see their website and ‘Hutnews’ archives.


You might enjoy to read this post by zen priest Shodo Spring on the "Jizo Chronicles"  - his response. My understanding is that the tar sands he refers to are in Alaska, and are being processed for the fossil fuel they contain. But if you are more informed on this issue, please send me a comment and I'll post it.